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February 24, 2011


Thomas Mackie

Unless the trait is burned out of a child or even an adult, the anticipation of exploration is “fun”. Perhaps we become too precise in defining the word fun. However, when I recently entered the Chattanooga Zoo, though an experienced 30 year, museum veteran, I still experienced the excitement of anticipation and heightened curiosity at entering the zoo’s track marked gateway. My mind became flooded with memories of the Detroit Zoo’s exhibits half a century ago. Now I feel old, but I had fun.
A healthy imagination feeds off opportunities to explore new landscapes, people, objects and ideas. The time taken on a nature hike, tour of historic site, science center, or art gallery acts on us as an adventure. It takes time and investment, but leaves us changed and often very satisfied with ourselves. We grew a little more and I think that is fun.

Paul Orselli

I think most types of museums need MORE fun!

As Marshall McLuhan said, "It's misleading to suppose there's any basic difference between education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking into the matter."

Linda Wilson

The topic of the piece was 'fun' and 'not fun'. Paul's McLuhan quote uses two other terms, 'education' and 'entertainment", which, azs the quote says, are often (erroneously) put in opposition. Jan Packer (2006) listed five statements under the general motivation 'enjoyment'
To be pleasantly occupied
To feel happy and satisfied
To be entertained
To enjoy myself
To have fun
I too think most types of museums need more fun

Jennifer Hammond

At a museum where I worked that focused on popular culture, we did extensive surveying of teachers and conversations with students and teens for a couple of different projects, and no surprise, "fun" came up a lot--which concerned some staff members. But when we probed a little, it was a very active definition of fun--more like "playful." I really wanted to follow up by looking at the research that's been done on play and testing some programs and activities designed around it, but moved on before we got that far.

Dana Allen-Greil

I'm curious if your finding that "young adults in their 20s without children are the most likely segment of all to think of museums as fun" only to pertains members of this group who actually visit museums. I'm curious if there are differences between those in this cohort (adults in their 20s without children) who *do* go to museums and the perceptions of those in the same cohort who do *not* regularly visit museums. Do those who don't visit museums think they aren't fun? Is this why they don't visit? A topic for another study, most likely...


As a "young adult in my 20s without children" I probably would describe museums as fun. However, I do think it's incredibly reductive to limit yourself to ONLY that description. In thinking about in what context I would describe them as fun, it would probably be if I were trying to get someone to go with me to one, or mentioning museum-going as a hobby to someone.

On a deeper level, if my hypothetical conversation went further, there are a lot of things I would explain as being what I consider "fun" about museums. The chance to see and learn about new, interesting things; the discussion with and things you learn about those who accompany you; people-watching other visitors; exploring, particularly if the architectural setting is cool (is that another loaded term?); revisiting familiar works of art or exhibits; and so forth. All of these things, explained in more detail, I would imagine are fairly routine motivations for going to museums. I also think that they probably apply to museums such as the Holocaust Museum, even though it's not supposed to be a "fun" place. I agree, though, I probably wouldn't describe that specific experience with the word "fun."

Now, don't get me wrong, I love roller coasters and theme parks, because I think they are fun too--but for very different reasons. None of the above applies to amusement parks (well, except for people-watching). You may possibly stand in a hot, packed line under the blazing sun for three hours for a four-minute experience in a museum, but I doubt it happens very often.

Susie Wilkening, Reach Advisors

Thanks for all these comments, everyone! Love them.

Some quick responses.

Jennifer - there is a lot of research out there on learning through play, and this is, of course, a big focus of children's museums. The Association of Children's Museums has a good website to check out: http://www.childrensmuseums.org/programs/playingforkeeps.htm.

Dana - you caught my "museum-going." The majority of our data is, of course, from regular museum goers, though we do have a few, small, samples of the general public. And our leading indicators from those samples do imply that the general public are less likely to use the word "fun" in reference to museums. But please keep in mind that our samples of the general public are much smaller than our museum samples.

And Sara - you are absolutely right that people come in with multiple motivations. To capture that, we ask about motivations in different ways, sometimes asking respondents to indicate all their motivations, and sometimes asking them to pick their one, strongest, motivation. In both cases, younger adults without children are more likely to indicate "fun" than other segments.

Thanks for everyone's thoughts!


Is there a connection here between "fun" and play? I'd guess there is on some level and it's driving this article. From this angle, it makes sense that "fun" is extrinsic to parents, and I'm wondering if they judge fun directly by their child's ability to physically play at a museum. As you get older (before you have children and it cycles back, I'd guess) play seems to evolve to become intrinsic.. you can play with ideas, challenge your notion of things, etc.

As one of those young adults in my twenties, I've found that access to play (with objects and ideas) fuels what my friends perceive as fun. I agree with this, too, but I also work in museums and tend to be biased. :-) Have you come across anything relating fun directly to play?


Much of today's focus on education is on formal resources like schools and classrooms. Informal settings such as museums offer untapped potential for communicating social, cultural and scientific information, correcting misconceptions and improving attitudes and cognitive skills. Learning is voluntary and self-directed in such informal settings. It is driven by curiosity, discovery, free exploration and the sharing of experiences with companions. Learning in museums, in its broadest sense, is a by-product of the free interaction of leisure oriented visitors with exhibitions and their surroundings. (This discussion focuses on adult visitors and family groups, not organized or guided groups such as school groups.)

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